Sept 18, 2002

From the Associated Press

Notre Dame is winning again. The next step is to start doing it against Michigan State.

The 12th-ranked Fighting Irish try to snap a five-game losing streak against the Spartans when the teams meet Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

After a dismal 5-6 campaign last year, Notre Dame has turned things around this season, its first under Tyrone Willingham.

The Irish moved to 3-0 last week by upsetting then-No. 7 Michigan 25-23 on Saturday. Willingham became the first Notre Dame coach since Dan Devine in 1975 to start his first season with three straight wins, and the first in school history to win his first two against ranked opponents.

This game is meaningful for Willingham for a number of reasons. Not only is he facing his alma mater and the school where he began his coaching career, but he will also be part of the first Division I-A matchup between two black head coaches. Bobby Williams coaches Michigan State.

“The fact that two coaches of African-American descent will go against each other this weekend is significant, but it also points to a shortcoming in our system,” Willingham said. “And that is disappointing.”

Willingham and Williams make up 50 percent of the black head coaches currently employed by a Division I-A school. San Jose State’s Fitz Hill and New Mexico State’s Tony Samuel are the others.

While Williams is aware of the importance of the coaching matchup – the first between two black coaches at the major college level – he is more focused on the history between the teams, who have met 65 times.

“That’s what gets your blood going, the history of this rivalry, the magnitude of this game, the fact that we need to get this team back on track,” he said. “That’s what excites me.”

Willingham will try to lead Notre Dame to a victory against Michigan State (2-1), something Bob Davie was never able to do. The Irish were 0-5 against the Spartans under Davie and haven’t won in the series since a 21-20 victory under Lou Holtz on Sept. 17, 1994.

Michigan State will try to become the first team to win six straight against Notre Dame since the Spartans themselves won eight in a row from 1955-63.

However, all the momentum heading into this game is with the Irish.

Notre Dame didn’t have an offensive touchdown in its first two games, but got the offense untracked Saturday. Carlyle Holiday led the Irish on three scoring drives, while Ryan Grant ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Spartans were embarrassed 46-22 by California at home on Saturday. Michigan State, ranked 15th at the time, fell all the way out of the rankings.

“I am of the mindset that really what happened to Michigan State was probably they were looking ahead,” Willingham said. “And that’s something that all coaches guard against, regardless of how good or how much you try to prepare them not to. Young people do that sometimes.

“So the Michigan State team that we’ll see will not be the one that played last weekend.”

The bright spot for the Spartans was Charles Rogers, who caught nine passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. He has caught a TD pass in 11 straight regular-season games, one shy of the NCAA record held by Marshall’s Randy Moss, Michigan’s Desmond Howard and Pacific’s Aaron Turner.

Rogers also has a school-record seven straight 100-yard receiving games.

“I’d rather have the win,” Rogers said. “Luckily, it wasn’t during the Big Ten season. We still have nine games left this season and still have a chance to make our run and we plan on doing so.”

Notre Dame leads the series 41-23-1.